There’s been a local bike shop atop of Box Hill for decades. Going by the name of Cycles Dauphin and once owned by a pro cyclist, it was in its day a hive of busy cycle related activity. And then owner by owner, it fell into obscurity, losing customers left right and centre. Until this year – when local rider Geoff Clifton and a group of his cycling friends decided to buy it and reinvent the site.
Now under the name of Destination Bike, the site sees its grand opening this weekend over 19 and 20 March. The coffee shop and workshop has been open unofficially for some weeks, but the event will mark the store's readiness, with the bike showroom unveiled in all its crowning glory.
Opening a bike shop has to be a fascinating process. We chatted to the owner, Geoff, about what he’s learned so far in the few short weeks he’s been the owner and manager of a local bike shop...
The cycling community is endlessly varied
Clifton has always been a road cyclist at heart, riding with Surrey's Redhill Cycling Club and dabbling in time trials. But he’s met so many different types of riders since opening his doors: “This shop, particularly because of its heritage, has a loyal following from a group of riders who were very good racers in the 1980s. They love the heritage of great Italian kit – they’re mostly in their late 60s and 70s, rolling around on Italian bikes with Campag groupsets. If they’re not still riding Italian bikes, they tend to ride titanium actually for their long distance rides. They're excited to see the shop coming back to life, and they know the mechanic who we've kept on understands their bikes.
“Cycle clubs have started to find us. Kingston Wheelers came in with a huge group over the weekend. And what we’re also getting is people from South London, Richmond Park, Roehampton – so they come down, do 'the loop' – for them this is about half way. They’re often riding quite exotic bikes."
Clifton will be stocking a range of women's clothing, and has followed TWC's advice around having a rather nice bathroom facility, changing room and of course coffee and cake on offer - something that was always an important part of the plan. Around 15 - 20 per cent of customers have been women, and he says: "It's been a larger percentage than I imagined. We’ve seen lots of small groups of women riding together – over the weekend we had a large group, all eager to find us on twitter and share the news we were here."
Clifton says during the week most visits come from solo riders or those in pairs. The weekend sees larger groups, but they’re not all from the established cycling clubs of Surrey and London – he says: “We see some large established clubs, and some smaller groups. There are more smaller groups these days – it feels to me that the people influenced by Ride London and the Olympics and who are coming from London don’t necessary want that club culture, they’re usually riding with a few mates, or even work colleagues."
There are some great bike brands outside the status quo, many of them British
Destination Bike are stocking bikes from Dassi, Kinesis, and the Boardman Elite range. Clifton decided to stick with British brands, making the chain of supply smoother – and customers have certainly been interested to see the bikes on display. He said: “I had a woman in here the day before yesterday, with £8,000 worth of Specialized. She saw the Boardman [I have on show] with all the Dura Ace Di2 kit and disc brakes, and noted it was £3,000 cheaper. She was impressed with the value."
“I think people will start to realise there is much more outside of the ‘big three’ cycling brands. I will push to see that happening."
There are a lot of people riding bikes that don’t fit them or aren’t set up right
When you buy a bike online, you can sometimes get a great deal – but unless you’re a mechanical whizz you might find you hit problems. Clifton said: “We have people come here all the time with issues with bikes they’ve bought online – brakes not set up right, gears not set up right – we’re very happy to mend those, but if they got the bike from us in the first place we’d have set it up right, and it would fit them – for probably not a great deal of difference in the price. We see so many riders cycling past the shop on bikes that just don’t fit, and a bike that doesn’t fit is never going to feel great, whatever amazing deal you got on high end spec."
Business’ need to use social media to succeed
Destination Bike’s website is still in the making, but they have active Facebook and Twitter accounts. Clifton isn’t a social media guru himself, but he recognises the need to engage with customers online – saying: “It does feel like social media is having an effect on cycling culture. Whenever people come in, the fact we have Wifi, they all jump on that – they’re on twitter and tweet about the fact they’re here. To be successful in the modern day environment you have to be active on social media. For me it’s going to be front and centre of all of our marketing."
Local bike shops can’t just sell bikes
Once upon a time, a local bike shop could survive through selling bikes, kit and components – now they need to compete with the likes of the major online retailers, so they need to be able to offer something else. Destination bike offer coffee, cake, hand built wheels, training plans and bike fits.
Clifton says: “Whatever you [as a LBS owner] can do that they can’t do online, you should try and offer. One member of our business team is a personal trainer and coach, which means that we can offer not just bikes but when you buy a bike – if you’ve got a goal, such as to ride the Marmotte [Granfondo], as part of the process of buying the bike we can make an assessment of where you are fitness wise, fit you for the right bike for that event, and write you a training plan to help you meet that objective on the day."
The true local cycling community always makes every effort to help its members
Clifton has been a member of Redhill Cycling Club for years, and it was his friends and clubmates who helped him fit out the shop. He says there’s no chance he’d have opened as quickly without them – explaining: “I had a lot of help from friends in the local cycling community when I first started setting up the shop. Within the structure of the company, everybody is a cyclist – from the accountant who looked after all the financial set up, to the guy involved in an engineering company, who helped with the building work – the plumbing and all the rest of it. I couldn’t have got going so promptly without them all."
Destination Bike is open now, but its official opening event takes place over the 19 and 20 March (this weekend). You'll find them along Box Hill Road - the one after the nice big climb!